- Are Homestays Worth it in Latin America?
Back when I was new to Latin America, I sometimes used homestays for my living arrangement.
It seemed like the easiest option, I guess.
I never had any travel experience prior to going to Mexico for example for the first time many years ago…
So I didn’t have much of an idea of how to get an apartment down here and didn’t know anyone in Latin America, etc…
Plus on the few occasions that I did use a homestay – it was also convenient because I would set up something with an NGO to work with or something similar…
And said NGO would often hook me up with a homestay program they knew about for example.
So I never really sought out using homestays in Latin America but I ended up staying in 4 different homestays down here.
Once in Xela, Guatemala.
Twice in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Once in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
And was it worth it?
Well, let’s have the experiences speak for themselves first and I will give my final verdict below.
Homestay in Xela, Guatemala
So my very first homestay was in Xela, Guatemala.
It consisted of a wife and a husband in their 40s – no kids but a small dog from what I remember.
The husband was often away from the house for extended periods of time as he had some business going on that involved travel to sell handmade things.
The wife was basically stay at home – she didn’t work.
The agreement between myself and the NGO that set me up with them was like maybe 300 bucks a month more or less for Spanish lessons and for the homestay service.
The homestay service included a place to stay obviously and 3 meals a day.
Both of which were satisfied – never had any issue.
When it comes to interacting with the homestay…
We only ever talked with each other during meals.
Outside of that, as you can imagine, everyone is busy with their own lives.
There were no events they invited me to and no real cultural exchanges of any kind.
I don’t think I improved my Spanish much by staying there – but I will get to why in the final verdict.
Also, one time I asked them if they could help me find out where to buy big containers of drinkable water.
That’s because the water from the sink isn’t drinkable so you need to buy those normally where I was.
And they agreed to buy it for me whenever I needed and I would give them the money they spent for it.
We did that until I realized that they were getting the same brand of water from the store next to the house and they were charging me around 10 dollars more roughly than what the prices were at the store.
I realized that when I walked into that store and saw the exact same thing of water they were bringing me and the price difference.
So I tried buying them myself but that caused an issue and they were insistent I don’t.
In the end, they saw another opportunity to make some small easy pocket change from me, I guess.
More on that later.
Despite that, they were friendly overall.
First Homestay in Cochabamba, Bolivia
I arrived to Cochabamba, Bolivia after a week visiting the Amazon Rainforest.
As you can read about here.
Once in the airport, I get greeted by the NGO that I am set to work with here.
They take me to their office to go through some paperwork and then the dad of the homestay shows up to take me to their place.
We walk maybe a few minutes and show up.
Once inside, the Bolivian dad, who thinks I don’t speak any Spanish whatsoever, starts complaining to the rest of the family (and the maid) about it.
Right off the bat, the very first words he says to the family is “this guy (meaning me) isn’t very smart. He doesn’t speak Spanish and I told them I wanted a Latino who spoke Spanish.”
And the only thing I said after I heard that was “no hablo español?”
The guy then looked at me for a second with some glare but then I was introduced to the family.
Maybe not the most welcoming greeting one could hope for.
But either way – he had a big dog, two daughters about my age, his wife and maid there in the kitchen.
And his family was probably one of the whitest families I saw in Bolivia – by far among the only white people I saw there who were local.
Regardless, my initial introduction to his family was probably representative of my overall experience there.
The two daughters he had seemed pretty nice for the most part but a little bit fresa like (fresa being a Mexican term but not sure what Bolivians would call it).
His wife was a doctor and literally never in the house.
He worked as a professor himself.
And being a bit stereotypical for a professor, he often came across as arrogant, condescending and the type that always tried to appear as the smartest person in the room at all times.
Like he was the guy who’d quote Aristotle to himself in the bathroom mirror at 5 AM after waking up to feel smart and warmed up for the day for when he can say other irrelevant things to try and come across as smart.
Just had a big ego with him in general.
And while I got along with the daughters alright…
I never could really get him to be friendly.
Like one time he was watching soccer in the living room and I came in to sit down and asked “you like soccer? How’s the game going?” in Spanish.
And he replied “No, I don’t like soccer” and changed the channel to some Bolivian version of the History Channel before leaving a minute later.
“Alright then…” I thought.
That was just one example.
The guy also made some condescending comment about my small backpack I’d have when I’d take trips to nearby places like Potosi.
And one of the major issues with this homestay family was that they only fed me one meal a day.
Not 3 meals as that was what I was paying for.
Anyway, I brought that up to the homestay dad about the other two meals a day that I am paying for and he gave me some crackers and said that was what we had for dinner.
Now, keep in mind, they weren’t poor – mom is a doctor, he is a professor and they had a very nice house.
Either way, the next afternoon, the NGO told me that they had a problem.
Apparently he complained about me to them the very next day and said I never tried to engage with their family.
Which isn’t true – I did try to engage with the people I could engage with who were home – the daughters and him.
As I said, the mom was never home due to work basically at the hospital.
And while the daughters seemed cool, he just seemed very anti social with a bad attitude.
My belief is that actually he just wanted me out because I asked about the other meals I was paying for and that pissed him off.
Anyway, I brought up my issue regarding the missing meals and the NGO decided to have a meeting with the family in private and then with me about the food.
Because they were given money by the NGO (and I guess by me then) to provide it and this can sometimes be an issue where a family is trying to pocket the extra change by only feeding once a day.
And, as I said, they weren’t poor by any means – not like they were living on 200 dollars a month – and the money I spent was, in theory, supposed to cover food costs anyway.
Either way, they decided to take all the foreigners out of the house because it wasn’t going along with its obligations and moved me to another homestay.
Second Homestay in Cochabamba, Bolivia
The transition to the next homestay was easy – done the next day.
I remember once in a blue moon walking past the old dad of the first homestay in the street – just by coincidence – and he always gave me the strongest death stare you can imagine lol.
I guess he was really pissed off at me – maybe because he lost a income stream with foreigners living there or whatever.
But regardless, the second homestay was better in my experience.
When I moved there, there were some other Americans living there.
They told me that the woman who ran the place was very picky on what she allowed – even more so than the last family I had.
Where they were only allowed 5 minute showers every other day of the week and only one meal a day also.
Well, they complained and she stopped doing that before I showed up.
So anyway, she was very nice to me and even seemed to like me personally quite a bit.
We got 3 meals a day there without any problem.
Could shower whenever and for more than 5 minutes.
And she even gave me a free sweater!
Basically, I had a date set up but I needed a phone to contact this chick.
And I didn’t realize people use Whatsapp down here yet so I wasn’t using that.
Which is free.
Anyway, I had no data on my phone and asked her if I could borrow her phone for a second.
She agreed and inquired about where I was going – on a date with some chick, I said.
She gave me a sweater because she was worried I’d get cold outside. She let me keep it even!
I might even have it somewhere but I haven’t seen it in a long time.
Finally, her house was very big and it had a big family.
Her husband was there obviously.
And so were who two grown up sons who were in their 30s or late 20s.
And one of them was some driver who often drove to the Chilean border but had his wife and kids living in this house with his mom.
So that was my experience with homestays in Bolivia.
Homestay in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Finally, I’ve only had one more homestay in my life up to this writing.
The one in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
This homestay consisted of a single Argentine woman named Monica who had curly red hair and was in her late 30s or early 40s.
She was single – and had a great ass with some big lips – she did look nice.
And she was a nice person also.
She had a little dog in the homestay – who died during my time there – he was old.
I ended up printing out some photos I took of him after he died and gave them to her. She really liked that.
And she was pretty chill for the most part.
We talked a lot – easier to talk with her for reasons I will get to below.
Always provided the meals I paid for.
Was cool with me going out at night – though at first she was worried because I wouldn’t get home until the morning if I happened to be staying the night at some chick’s place.
But once she understood that I like to go out and that I wasn’t getting kidnapped by the Argentine version of El Chapo – it was cool.
And yeah – overall, my stay there was pretty not controversial – no problems.
So those are my experiences…
But what are my thoughts looking back at all of those experiences?
Is a homestay worth it?
Generally speaking, I’d say no.
Out of all of my experiences, about half of them were nice overall and the other half were not as nice.
So it’s half half in my case.
But I guess it depends on what you want.
Some people do homestays because they don’t know how to get a local apartment down here – don’t worry.
Airbnb works better and you can find apartments on Facebook for example by typing in “departamentos” or “apartamentos” “en x city.”
And you can find groups for apartment listings in whatever city you are going to.
Which, by the way, was basically the reason why I went with them early on – because I didn’t know how to find an apartment down here and didn’t bother looking until I got to Colombia.
Also, some people do homestays for the cultural exchange.
I didn’t learn anything cultural in any of my homestays. Not invited to any events or anything.
Plus, some people do it because they want to practice their Spanish!
Honestly, the only homestay person who practiced Spanish with me on a consistent basis was the Argentine one.
The others didn’t really.
And it’s mostly for the same reason why you won’t necessarily get any real cultural exchange doing this.
Which is that they have their own lives as well.
They don’t have time to go to all the coolest cultural events with you in your city or show you around or whatever.
And they don’t have the time to practice Spanish very often.
Usually any practice you do have will most often be at the table eating a meal together.
But if your Spanish is weak, which might be the case if you are looking to improve it through a homestay…
Then it’s less likely they will talk with you for any considerable time at the table because who wants to have a broken up conversation with someone who has difficulty understanding everything?
Especially since you are this stranger in their home and they might just be using you for money.
Which we will get to soon…
But on the top of practicing Spanish…
If you do want some homestay that is ideal for that…
Either get one that has kids your age who live there (which would be difficult if you are older than 25, I imagine)…
Or get a place that doesn’t have anyone living there except one person – like the Argentine lady.
In that case, you are the only person he or she can talk with at the table.
Now when it comes to the money issue…
It’s not uncommon in my experience and in the experience of other foreigners I have met who have used homestays…
In fact, almost all of the foreigners I know outside of a few have felt this way….
Which is that they have felt like nothing more than just an ATM machine to give money to the homestay family.
That the homestay family isn’t actually interested in having a cultural exchange with a foreigner but just your money.
Which, in my experience, is pretty true – not all are like that but most are from what I have seen in my case and in the case of others.
So are homestays worth it?
Well, if you have literally never been to Latin America before and don’t speak Spanish and you don’t know anyone and you are nervous about this first trip down here…
I don’t see much harm in doing it for the first trip.
Just to help you transition into life here at first.
However, after that, I’d say don’t use them.
Because I really don’t like the lack of privacy regarding homestays – impossible to bring chicks back to your place and some don’t like you running around the city at night either.
Second, they don’t always respect what you paid for – in regards to meals.
Third, there isn’t any real cultural exchange going on normally and Spanish practice can often not really be there outside of meals anyway.
Plus, you can get plenty of cultural experiences and learning Spanish (or Portuguese in Brazil) on your own easy enough down here.
Just go out and attend pubic events, go to the bar, meet chicks on Tinder, etc.
Plenty of other ways to meet people.
Especially with the internet.
And those people you can practice Spanish with also.
Outside of that….
Those who have never been down here before and need an easier transition to life in LATAM..
Or those looking for a very budget friendly living arrangement…
I don’t see any real benefit to using a homestay and I’d never do it again – especially as I am older now and really value my privacy.
Anyway, that’s just my take on the matter!
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